As autumn draws to a close, we begin to prepare ourselves for the Christmas season and all of the busyness that is usually accompanied by it. Shopping, writing, visiting, wrapping, decorating, cooking, and traveling often overwhelm us, when instead, we should be focusing on the true meaning of Christmas: the incarnation and birth of our Lord Jesus Christ. In the church calendar, this season of intentional waiting is called Advent.
Generally, Advent is viewed as the preparation and anticipation of the coming of Christ. In most traditions, Advent is marked by differences in the typical service, such as different colored robes, an altar that is more modestly decorated, different songs or hymns, or Christmas-focused sermons and readings.¹ However, Advent is celebrated in very different ways between different traditions. Even within the same traditions, many people have their own personal traditions surrounding the Advent season. I spoke with a few current Templeton students about their Advent traditions in and outside of church.
Senior Amelia Thomas attends an Eastern Orthodox church. Her church’s traditions include periods of fasting, Orthodox Christmas carols, and the commemorations and celebrations of different saints - including Saint Nicholas: the saint that the modern concept of Santa Claus is based on. Advent is important to observe “because it can be easy to forget that Christmas is just as important as the resurrection, because it is Christ incarnate on the Earth,” says Amelia. The Orthodox tradition of Advent is crucially important to the theology of the eucharist, the resurrection, and “the importance of the material man. Advent is part one of part two, we really don’t separate it from Pascha.”²
Sophomore Ryle Mellinger attends a non-denominational church, and he spoke about how his church’s music is a big part of the Advent season. Not only does the Sunday-service music change to reflect Christmas, but additional services and events are dedicated to different kinds of Advent worship music. Members of Ryle’s church host and perform at a Christmas concert that is attended by members of the outside community. “It is really big for community outreach,” he says. In addition to the concert, a more traditional service featuring classic Christmas carols is also held.
Sophomore Annika Pickard also attends a non-denominational church. Her church lights traditional Advent candles and has an annual evening Christmas Eve service. Outside of church, Anni’s family has their own Christmas traditions as well. Every Christmas morning, the Pickard family goes into Camden to help prepare a Christmas breakfast for the homeless. “American consumerism is all about [Christmas] being ‘you, you, you,’ but it’s really not about you,” Anni says. A prime goal of the Advent season should be, as Anni so wisely remarks, “to focus more on spreading joy to others, rather than focusing on your own Christmas wishlist.”
As this year’s Advent season begins, Christians around the globe will start to observe all sorts of diverse traditions all to prepare their hearts to celebrate and remember the coming of Jesus. Although our celebrations and traditions may look very different from one another, it is important to remember the unity found in our belonging to the body of Christ. We must also remind ourselves, in the heat of all the distracting business, to do as Jesus did and turn our eyes towards others in need. I pray that you all have a joyful and refreshing Advent season, a very merry Christmas, and a happy New Year.
1. “What Is Advent?” USCCB, www.usccb.org/prayer-worship/liturgical-year/advent. Accessed 28 Nov. 2023.
2. Pascha is the Orthodox Easter celebration.